FDA orders CytRx to halt patient enrollment after death of a cancer patient

CytRx ($CYTR) has run into an unexpected roadblock with its cancer drug conjugate aldoxorubicin, slamming the brakes on new patient recruitment in all their clinical trials after the FDA dropped a partial clinical hold on the program. According to the biotech the hold was forced by the death of a patient who was given the drug through a compassionate use program.

LA-based CytRx execs say that patients already enrolled in the studies will continue to receive the therapy as investigators added new safety measures, retooling trial protocols to include an "appropriate inclusion/exclusion criteria, an additional patient screening assessment and an evaluation of serum electrolytes prior to aldoxorubicin administration." The patient who died, they added, had not qualified for any of its studies.

As it stands now, the biotech doesn't know exactly how long the partial hold will last, but their announcement sought to calm jumpy investors, saying they expected to resolve the FDA's demands "expeditiously" and can stick to their current timelines. CytRx says it expects to report preliminary results from their mid-stage study of Kaposi's sarcoma in the second quarter of 2015 and preliminary results from the ongoing Phase II clinical trial of aldoxorubicin in glioblastoma multiforme in the first half of 2015. The company added that it is committed to completing enrollment in their Phase III trial by the end of next year.

That reassurance appears to have helped with investors, who seemed to count this as more of a temporary setback than a catastrophe. Shares for CytRx were down about 9% in mid-morning trading.

Aldoxorubicin uses a linker molecule to attach to albumin in the blood and concentrate in tumors, where the acidic environment releases the chemotherapy doxorubicin in doses up to four times higher than what's used now. Late last year their stock soared after their drug scored promising results for progression-free survival in a Phase IIb trial.

This case illustrates one reason why biotechs often quietly squirm under the pressure of compassionate use programs. They can be expensive to operate, time-consuming and raise fresh concerns when a patient dies or experiences a setback. On the other hand, if regulators take action like this following the death of an advanced stage cancer patient, there may have been something about the case that triggered broader concerns for the entire patient population.

- here's the release